Discovering Physics

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This Course Guide has been taken from the most recent presentation of the course. It would be useful for reference purposes but please note that there may be updates for the following presentation.


Discovering Physics

Welcome to 'Discovering Physics'.

It is not an easy task to locate a physics course that fulfills the following sets of partially contradictory aims:

  • To cover a wide span — it is our wish to include an introductory survey of both contemporary and classical physics, but of course, avoiding superficiality.
  • In presenting a clear account of physics, we at the same time wish you to be involved in the process of discovery.
  • We want the course can be accessible to as wide a spectrum of students as possible, yet the need for mathematical analysis could not be overlooked.

Finally, we identify PHYS S271, which contains various new ideas and new concepts in contemporary and classical physics, of minimum mathematical analysis. We hope it will convey to you the excitement and interest, we find in the wide range of physics subjects.

This booklet has two purposes: to provide you with the information you need to start this course, and acts as a source of information to which you can refer during your study.

Section 2 contains the materials you need before starting PHYS S271. Please read it now.

What you should already know

If you have taken SCI S102 or SCI S111/SCI S121 and had no major difficulties with the physics Units, you are in an ideal situation to start this Course.


The components of PHYS S271

  1. Each of the Units of PHYS S271 comprises the Main Text and a variety of other components (audio recordings, video recordings, television programmes, etc.). All components (including TV) are assessable and may be the subject of assignment or exam questions. The Main Text. The main textincorporates notes for home experiments (i.e., the notes for the 'Short Labs' at the HKMU), if any. At the beginning of each main text is a Study Guide. Read it carefully together with the dates in the Presentation Schedule when planning your fortnight's work, which should take about fifteen hours plus one or two hours for assignments. Throughout the text are ITQs (in text questions) which form an essential part of the development of the argument. If you skip ITQs, the text will not make sense. SAQs, on the other hand, test your understanding of the text and contain no essential new ideas. At the end of each main text, the objectives of that Unit are listed. The objectives guide what you are expected to understand, remember, and be capable of doing when you have finished the Unit. They let you know what topics may be assessed in the assignments and the examination.
  2. Summary Cards. Each block of the course has an associated Summary Card which lists useful results and facts. You may like to use the cards as bookmarks, to keep your place in the Main Texts. You can transfer cards from one binding to another or even to future courses, to provide handy sources of reference.
  3. Problem Book. One of the main skills developed in PHYS S271 is the art of solving problems. To help you gain fluency in tackling problems, the Main Texts contain many Worked Examples, some of which are talked through using audio CDs. The Problem Book is an additional resource that presents further problems and model solutions. You can regard it as a series of templates that show how typical questions can be approached. You will probably want to scour the Problem Book when tackling assignment questions or when revising the course.
  4. Handbook and Glossary. The main function of the Handbook is to provide help for background material assumed in PHYS S271. The first part of the Handbook contains a compact summary of the mathematical tools you will need to get a good start on the course. If you have any free time before the course begins, try the diagnostic quiz at the beginning of the Handbook; if you have difficulty with any part of this, study the appropriate part of the Handbook carefully. Some items in the Handbook are explicitly keyed from the Main Texts, so you may wish to return to the Handbook during your study of the Units. For reference purposes, the Handbook also has a section that summarizes the mathematics developed within PHYS S271. The Glossary lists the key concepts of the course in alphabetical order. It provides definitions and outlines important relationships. If you are unsure of a particular concept, try looking it up in the Glossary and tracing through all the cross-references and references to the Main Texts. In this context, remember that each Main Text ends with an index.
  5. Practical Handbook. Practical work is essential to most progress in science. This handbook addresses some of the fundamental questions associated with carrying out experiments in physics, in particular how to collect, record, and analyze data.
  6. Video Recordings. Units that do not have broadcast television have a video component, often of an interactive nature that will require you to pause the track to answer a question, carry out a calculation or sketch a diagram. You will, therefore, need to reserve use of the computer for an hour or so, to have time to play the video sequence and carry out the associated exercises. All these recordings can be accessed via the Online Environment (OLE) under ‘Multimedia’.
  7. Audio Recordings. Many Units have an audio-visual component as an important part of their teaching strategy, so you will need a PC, as well as the Main Text which contains the accompanying frames. All these recordings can be accessed via the OLE under ‘Multimedia’.
  8. The video programme. The video programmes serve a variety of roles in the Course: some reinforce and expand on materials in the main texts; others introduce completely new but related concepts and applications.  These video programmes will not be broadcasted. Instead, they are kept in the HKMU Library for use by students in the Library.
  9. Assignments. PHYS S271 has been written to help you discover physics. The assignments are intended to be part of the teaching process. There are four assignments and two assignments (multiple choice). The assignment questions will be posted on the Online Learning Environment (OLE) and will NOT be sent to you by post. The cut-off dates will be posted on the OLE. You are required to submit your assignments via the e-submission in the OLE. You must submit the assignments on or before the corresponding due date.
    You can prepare your assignments using word processing software (e.g. Word) and then upload the pdf file to OLE. Or you can complete your assignments on paper and convert them to soft copy by scanning or taking pictures. The recommended format is pdf, jpeg, or png (the file size should be less than 10 Mb). Remember that your assignment score will not be counted if your tutor receives your assignment after its cut-off date unless late submission has been granted either by your tutor or the Course Coordinator. In the case of assignments (multiple choice), there is no late submission. The next section explains how your grade for the Course is calculated and lists the relevant Units each assignment assesses.
  10. Experiments. Some units refer to experiments to be performed using equipment from a Home Experiment Kit. This course however does not have such a kit as the experiments will be performed at short lab sessions, details of which will be posted on the OLE.
  11. Week-end Schools. Units and other course components may refer to activities taking place at a Summer School. In this course, those activities will take place at Sunday Schools between Feb to Mar.  You will be alerted on the OLE to the exact dates. A certain proportion of the Sunday Schools is compulsory please make sure that you attend them.
  12. Tutorials. There will be face-to-face tutorial sessions with your Course Tutor, supporting the teaching in the units. Details of the tutorials are contained in the Presentation Schedule and a later 'Stop Press'. The name of your Course Tutor will be supplied in a separate mailing. He or she will mark your assignments as well as giving tutorials. Your tutor is the first person to contact if you have any academic questions about PHYS S271.
  13. Surgeries. There will be regular surgery sessions throughout the course. At each surgery, a tutor will be available to deal with any problems you encounter with the course materials.
  14. Examination. On the OLE, you can download a Specimen Examination Paper to show you what to expect in the final examination. This will be accompanied by answers and a Course Summary and Revision Guide which summarizes the main topics you need to review in your final revision.

PHYS S271: What is it about?

Very briefly, the course consists of sixteen Units, divided into three Blocks:

Block A (Units 1-5)


- Newtonian mechanics

Block B (Units 6-11)


- Waves and electromagnetism

Block C (Units 12-14)


- Revolutions of modern physics

The topics in the first two Blocks (A & B) are regarded as aspects of classical physics. These present the mechanistic view of the world that was developed continuously from the time of Newton until the beginning of the twentieth century. Block A surveys Newtonian mechanics, a coherent view of the world which gave physical science its first great success and which explains a considerable part of everyday experience. Block B examines the physics of vibrations and waves (including sound and light) and provides an introduction to appealing phenomena in electricity and magnetism. Block C describes two major revolutions that have shaken physics more recently: Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. These discoveries lead to fundamental changes in our view of the world and are essential if we wish to understand the behaviour of very rapidly moving or very small objects. However, for objects that are sluggish compared to the speed of light and large compared to atoms, Newtonian mechanics turns out to be a very good approximation.

Each of the three Blocks ends with a Unit that contains less new material than usual and gives you a chance to review major concepts.

This Section contains information you may need during the Course and when revising. There is no need to read it now; just refer to it when necessary.



How the assessment adds up

There are four assignments and two assignments (multiple choice). All the assignments must be submitted via the e-submission in the OLE. They are all required for assessment. Assignment 03 will be based on your work at Week-end Schools. In your interest, it is best to tackle all the assignments because your result may be improved by doing so.

Table 2   Weighting of Assessment

2 Assignments (multiple choice)
4 Assignments



Final Examination








Units assessed

Assignment 01


Assignment 02


Assignment 03

Week-end Schools

Assignment 04


Assignments (multiple choice) 41


Assignments (multiple choice) 42



whole course



The final examination is a written paper of three hours, and you will attempt the questions without the help of any notes or printed materials relating to the course. A list of physics formulas is provided in the Appendix of the examination paper. A simple scientific calculator is allowed. You will be sent a Specimen Examination Paper, which resembles the actual paper in both style and format so that you can get some idea of what to expect.



The course grade is mainly determined by the overall course score (CS) yet students are normally required to obtain a minimum in both overall examination score (OES) and overall continuous assessment score (OCAS) set by the University to obtain a Pass result. To be awarded a particular course grade, a student must meet the minimum CS set by the University.


Help with difficulties

For academic problems, relating to your understanding of aspects of PHYS S271, please contact your Course Tutor who will look after you throughout the course.

If you find any errors in the Course materials or have any suggestions for improvements, please write to the Course Coordinator addressing:

PHYS S271 Course Coordinator,
Rm A0935, HKMU Building,
Hong Kong Metropolitan University,
30 Good Shepherd Street,
HO MAN TIN, Kowloon


Books You Might Find Helpful

PHYS S271 is a self-contained course, designed to be studied without reference to textbooks. Nevertheless, you may occasionally find it useful to consult a book to have an alternative viewpoint. Perhaps, for reasons not connected with PHYS S271, you may also want to know where to find out more about specific topics. The list below gives some books which might be useful.

  1. Halliday, Resnick and Walker, Fundamentals of Physics, Wiley, 11th edn, 2018.
    This book covers all the material of PHYS S271 at a slightly deeper level. The 11th edition is attractively produced, thorough and includes many worked examples and hints on how to solve problems. Some of the calculus goes beyond that used in PHYS S271 but if you wish to buy just one physics textbook this is the one the Course Team would most highly recommend.
  2. Young, Adams and Chastain, College Physics, Pearson, 11th edn, 2019.
    The 11th edition of this old standard may be useful as preparatory reading. It does not contain calculus notation and does not go as far as PHYS S271 in some respects, but it does contain problem-solving hints.